92% of Singapore investors believe companies often resort to legal but ‘creative’ accounting tactics to hide figures, according to BlackLine survey

Unidentified businessmen crossing the street in Singapore. (Image by Joyfull / Shutterstock.com)

A global survey of institutional investors commissioned by financial automation software leader BlackLine, Inc reveals that 92% of Singapore investors believe companies in their portfolio often resort to legal but ‘creative’ accounting tactics in order to attract or satisfy investors, causing investors to increase scrutiny over portfolio company financials.

The survey, which covered over 760 institutional investors across the world including 100 Singapore institutional investors, was conducted to establish their attitudes to financial risk, due diligence, and reporting. The findings reveal the financial practices that raise red flags for investors, as well as the factors they rely on to make informed investment decisions.

According to the survey, creative accounting, where companies exploit financial loopholes to present figures in a legal though misleadingly favourable light, was identified as a major concern for the Singapore investor community.

Not only do the majority of investors believe that these tactics are commonplace at their portfolio companies, but 92% believe that more large companies will resort to these techniques over the next 12 to 18 months.

Worryingly, 91% of local investors surveyed also agreed on the likelihood of a global recession in the next 12 to 18 months, meaning businesses will need to work even harder to outstrip the competition.

Nonetheless, companies should think twice before trying to manipulate their figures, taking into account more than a third (31%) of investors singled out evidence of creative accounting as the factor that would make them least likely to invest in a company.

“In many ways the international and local business landscape is more complex, uncertain and challenging than before. Companies especially in Singapore are therefore under increasing pressure to perform and retain a competitive edge,” said Terry Smagh, Senior Vice President for Asia Pacific and Japan at BlackLine.

“However, businesses cannot afford to have the integrity of their financial data questioned at a time when investors as well as the local regulators are evidently becoming more stringent about unnecessary and unwarranted financial risks,” he added.

What’s more, none of the Singapore investors surveyed say they will invest in a company with poor financial controls without taking some form of corrective action first, such as imposing changes on the company or its management team.

Additionally, close to a third of investors (29%) say risk of internal financial fraud or financial non-compliance make them less likely to invest. Meanwhile, more a third (33%) are put off by consistently late filings, with a slightly lower portion less likely to invest in companies that make adjustments post reporting (30%).

These red flags are encouraging investors to take a much closer look at the numbers, highlighting the importance of accurate and transparent financial data. When asked what the most important considerations were when deciding whether to invest, growth potential of the sector in which the company operates, global or domestic economic outlook, and access to real-time snapshots of company finances (47%) all three factors came out on top.

This suggests that while Singapore investors are forward-looking, they also need a clear and realistic view of current financial data in order to make informed decisions.

“It’s likely that investors looking to Singapore firms will increasingly want to look ‘under the hood’ of their portfolio companies, to ensure they are getting a transparent and accurate view of their finances,” continued Smagh.

“The ability to access, and more importantly analyse, data in real time will not only be vital for driving business competitiveness, but also for maintaining investor trust.”

More information on the research can be found here.

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